Genetic Diversity Assessment of Sassafras albidum for Conservation Efforts

Fred Gouker, Abigail Moore, Kevin Conrad, Margaret Pooler, USDA-ARS U.S. National Arboretum, Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, Enviromental and Plant Biology Department, Ohio University

Sassafras albidum is a well-known, ecologically important tree that is dispersed throughout the Eastern United States. Its root and bark oil were commonly used as a flavoring agent for many products including tea and root beer. This tree can be used to restore depleted soils and rehabilitate disturbed sites. Sassafras also serves as a host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly, providing a strong wildlife value. S. albidum is a member of the Lauraceae family that is presently threatened by laurel wilt disease originating from the fungus Raffaelea lauricola. Laurel wilt and is transferred by the insect vector, redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus) through burrowing. While fungicides may help treat individual trees, the drastic spread of this disease has led us to believe broad-scale, preventative, efforts must be made to conserve the genetic diversity of this species. In this study we strive to isolate microsatellite loci from a diverse collection of sassafras found across the eastern and midwest regions of the United States to help protect and potentially recover this tree species through germplasm conservation before laurel wilt advances through the extensive native range of Sassafras and becomes a broad-scale epidemic.